Deanna Dewberry, NBC 5 Investigates Consumer Unit
A Collin County grand jury indicts a woman who claims to be the victim of a fake employer she says she found through LinkedIn. But police say she could be linked to a multistate fraud ring.
A Collin County grand jury has indicted on felony fraud charges a woman who insists she is the victim of a bogus boss she met on a professional networking website.
Tara Vaughns was arrested after she tried to cash a fake check that she said her employer mailed her. Allen police say the case may be connected to a multistate fraud ring based in Florida.
Vaughns, who moved from South Florida to North Texas several months ago, said she met the employer through LinkedIn this winter and was hired as a personal assistant making $500 per week.
She told the NBC 5 Investigates Consumer Unit in April that she was "really excited" for the opportunity and the chance to begin a fresh start in Texas.
As part of her job, she needed to set up a home office. She said her employer sent her a $2,600 check to be used in part for computer equipment and Internet service.
When she went to cash the check in February at a drive-thru bank in Allen, a bank associate told her the check was a fake.
"He was like, 'We have to hold this check for a fraud investigation,'" she said.
From the drive-thru lane, she immediately emailed her boss, she said.
"I attempted to cash the check and it's not a good check," Vaughns wrote, signing the email "concerned and embarrassed."
Vaughns said her employer never replied.
To make matters worse, Allen police stopped her as she drove off.
"I was just in shock," she said. "I didn't know what to do."
She was arrested and ended up in jail for five days.
NBC 5 spoke with Vaughns and her attorney, Scott Edgett, after her arrest.
"This is a person that is not a criminal. This is a person that's been victimized, and she's continuously being victimized by the criminal justice system," said Edgett.
"I just want it all to all go away," Vaughns said as she cried.
But Allen police have a different version of what happened.
"All I know is she passed a forged document, and the only victim in this case is the elderly gentleman in New York State who's out over $50,000 because the bank account that she had on that check is his bank account," Allen police spokesman Sgt. Jon Felty said.
Police told NBC 5 that Vaughns' case may be connected to a criminal fraud ring involving stolen checks and credit cards. The operation, according to police, is based in Florida; coincidentally, where Vaughns last lived.
Felty told NBC 5 that police believe the employer she says she met on LinkedIn "does not exist." The job search and the email correspondence between Vaughns and the employer were phony, too, he said.
"I submit that the emails are part of the cover for criminal activity," he said. "They have no validity at all in this case."
The case was presented to a Collin County grand jury in April. Just this month, it indicted her on third-degree felony forgery charges.
"This case is being scheduled for a jury trial at the first court setting," Edgett said. "I anticipate this case will be presented to a jury in late 2013, and justice will finally be served for Tara Vaughns."
Vaughns did not respond to NBC 5's calls about the indictment.
As for LinkedIn, the company didn't respond to specific questions about the case, but sent an emailed statement.
"LinkedIn's policy is to not allow fake profiles," LinkedIn spokeswoman Krista Canfield said. "If we're made aware of a false profile, we take appropriate action by restricting, suspending or terminating/deleting that account."
Canfield said the company's policy is outlined in the user agreement and that members can report inappropriate posts or profiles.
Vaughns said she never contacted LinkedIn to report what had happened.
If convicted, she could face 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.